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Lt. Governor’s Office receives complaints about Orem City Council’s proposition resolutions

Orem City Council meeting, live stream screen capture, Oct. 11, 2022
courtesy Orem City Council
A screen capture of the Oct. 11, 2022 meeting of the Orem City Council.

About two dozen people have complained to the Lt. Governor’s Office about the last two Orem City Council meetings and the resolutions they passed. Some of the complaints were forwarded to the Utah Attorney General’s Office and the Utah County Attorney’s Office.

The Orem City Council normally live streams its meetings. But during the Sept. 27 meeting, Mayor David Young had the feed turned off during public comment and while council members discussed a proposed resolution about a ballot proposition.

Young said the council did not want to stop streaming but was advised to do so by their legal counsel. People who were physically at the meeting were not asked to leave and a link to the full recording was sent to those who emailed the city recorder.

In a statement to KUER, Orem City Attorney Steve Earl said, “The City decided to stop the live stream for a portion of the meetings in order to avoid a potential violation of Utah Code Section 20A-11-1203 which prohibits publishing argument for or against a ballot proposition on the City's website.”

While the live stream was off, the resolution passed by the council dealt with Proposition 1, a proposed $595 million bond for the Alpine School District. In a 4-3 vote, the council opposed the bond and discouraged any votes in support of it. Young was in favor of the resolution, along with LaNae Millet, Terry Peterson and David Spencer. Jeff Lambson, Debby Lauret and Tom Macdonald were against.

It was a similar story at the Oct. 11 meeting. The live stream was also cut before the council passed a resolution stating the council’s support for Proposition 2, which deals with whether the Alpine School District should be split to create an Orem School District. It was another 4-3 vote with the same people for and against as in the previous meeting.

When the resolutions were being discussed, some of the opposing council members said they felt uncomfortable with the council taking a stand on a ballot issue.

Utah’s Director of Elections, Ryan Cowley, said the complaints received from Orem citizens fall into three categories.

The first type of complaint dealt with the city recorder, Jody Bates, emailing links to the full city council meeting. Since they show the council advocating for or against a ballot measure, the complaints alleged Bates was using her city email for a political purpose, which is banned under Utah Code 20A-11-1205(1)(b).

Cowley said Bates was fulfilling her job as city recorder, that she was not advocating for or against the propositions, and Cowley didn’t see that as a violation of state code.

The second type of complaint alleged the city council was using public funds to influence a ballot proposition, which would violate Utah Code 20A-11-1203. Cowley said the potential violation would be a class B misdemeanor, so the Lt. Governor’s Office sent the allegations to the Utah County Attorney’s Office for further review.

The Utah County Attorney’s Office confirmed in a statement to KUER that the office’s civil division received an email from Cowley on Oct. 18.

“We are reviewing the materials provided to determine if the evidence supports the violation of applicable state statutes,” the statement reads. “The matter is under review and this office will not comment until a determination is made regarding the disposition of the case.”

The third type of complaint alleged the city council violated the Open and Public Meeting Act by stopping the live stream while the council was voting on the resolutions. Cowley said those complaints were sent to the Civil Review Committee in the state Attorney General’s Office.

Rich Piatt, spokesperson for the Attorney General’s Office, confirmed they did receive the complaints and that they have reached out to Orem. The office believes the city wasn’t breaking any laws because they only had the live stream turned off, but still had a recording available and let people be physically present. But Piatt added the Open and Public Meetings Act wasn’t written with Zoom meetings and live streaming in mind, which made things confusing and might need to be clarified in the future.

Piatt said the talk with the city focused on making sure they are complying with the law and if the city had any questions about the law. There will be ongoing conversations as needed, he said, but the office will not be actively investigating the issue.

Tom Macdonald, one of the Orem councilors who voted against the two resolutions, doesn’t know if what the city council did was illegal, but he thinks that they should have stayed neutral and not passed the resolutions.

He’s personally against Proposition 2 and said that once it was decided “to put it on the ballot, I think we should have been done.”

Mayor Young believes there’s a lot of misinformation circulating about the two propositions and how much they will actually cost taxpayers. He said that’s the reason he voted for the resolutions and wanted to pass them. To him, the information in the two resolutions was factually true and by putting that into a resolution, the council was helping to clear up any confusion for voters.

Young also doesn’t think anything illegal was done by passing the resolutions.

“I believe that this is just an attempt to be able to throw something on the press and say, you know, there's an ethics issue,” he said.

Orem resident Sam Lentz , who served on the council from 2016-2019, sees the actions as unethical. He thinks what the council did was also illegal and that they used public funds to advocate for voting one way on a ballot proposition.

“To me, this is unprecedented that they're doing everything they believe they can get away with, from a legal standpoint, in order to sway the vote their way,” Lentz said.

Produced with assistance from the Public Media Journalists Association Editor Corps funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people.

Martha is KUER’s education reporter.
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